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Iraqi VP Says U.N. Inspections Pointless, U.S. Already Decided

By Colum Lynch

and Walter Pincus

As European allies urged the Bush administration Thursday to seek U.N. approval for any military action against Iraq, senior U.S. and Iraqi officials appeared to be converging on a key point of contention: the resumption of U.N. weapons inspections.

Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan told reporters in Syria that the United States has already made up its mind to launch a military strike against his country, rendering the debate over whether inspectors should return to Iraq meaningless.

“The U.S. administration ... says day and night that the issue is not related to whether the inspectors return or not, it has to do with changing the regime by force,” Ramadan said. “This [inspectors] is an issue on which we shouldn’t waste our time.”

Vice President Dick Cheney reiterated that a new round of U.N. weapons inspections was unlikely to provide sufficient guarantees that Iraq has foresworn its attempts to rebuild its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.

“Many have suggested that the problem can be dealt with simply by returning inspectors to Iraq,” Cheney told Korean war veterans in San Antonio, Tex. “But we must remember that inspections are not an end in themselves. The objective has to be disarmament.”

The remarks by the U.S. and Iraqi vice presidents came amid growing recognition at the United Nations and elsewhere that U.N. weapons inspections alone will not achieve either Baghdad’s goal of seeing an end to U.N. sanctions or the Bush administration’s stated commitment to overthrowing Saddam’s government. They also underscored how a six-month-long effort by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan SM ’72 to persuade Iraq to permit unfettered inspections has effectively stalled amid increasing war talk in Washington.

Iraq has not permitted U.N. inspectors to return since they left ahead of a U.S.-led bombing campaign in late 1998 that was intended to force Baghdad to comply with the demands of the inspections teams.

The tough tone of Cheney’s remarks this week alarmed European governments about the administration’s Iraq policy. France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and others warned Thursday that a unilateral U.S. military strike would be a violation of international norms.

French President Jacques Chirac said the prospect of a U.S. war against Iraq is “worrying” and would be “contrary to the respect of law and the authority of the Security Council.” But Chirac hinted that France might be willing to consider a U.N.-approved attack against Iraq if it “persists in refusing the unconditional return of inspectors. The Security Council will have to decide which measures to take.”

Chirac’s comments reflected a growing resignation in Europe that the United States intends to proceed with its plans to launch a military campaign against Iraq.